Shooting for the Stars
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
Mark Fuller's two greatest loves are science and design. Water is his third. And he's managed to combine them all, both in his education and in his professional life. As an undergraduate at the University of Utah, he focused on physics and civil engineering as well as theater sets. Next, at Stanford University, he earned a master's of science and engineering in product design. He then put all that to work for the Walt Disney Company, where he got his feet wet, so to speak, in the special-effects department. "What I really learned, though," he says, "was what it means to entertain." Today, as CEO of WET Enterprises, he applies that lesson to some of the world's splashiest fountains and water effects.
The first headquarters for the firm now known as WET, which stands for Water Entertainment Technologies, was Fuller's kitchen table in Los Angeles. After interim locations in Burbank and Studio City, he and his crew moved some tools into an old machine shop in Sun Valley. Today, that building is one of 13 on a 1-acre campus. Most are playfully named, for example Smile and Wink. The newest, a showplace that functions primarily as a research and design facility, is called the Idea Playground.
On the most basic level, the 188 employees at WET design fountains, water walls, and shooting sprays. But the results are far from typical. Consider the cauldron of fire and water at the XIX Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the 9 acres of water, light, and music at the Bellagio Las Vegas, and the 500-foot-high fountains at the Burj Khalifa in Dubayy, United Arab Emirates. Rooted in Fuller's Disney training, WET integrates its own brand of entertainment with a project's overall architecture and landscaping. Firms such as Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners are a major client source. So are Wynn Resorts and other hotel developers.
"First and foremost, we're a design studio," Fuller says. WET is a manufacturing entity, too. Every custom component, right down to the fountain nozzles, is made on-site. The scientific research backing up development occurs here as well. That's why there are sophisticated labs for chemistry and optics. Every project is built to scale in the model shop-where staffers sit at desks fabricated in the immaculate wood shop next door. WET also made worktables from butcher block and laser-cut aluminum. There's nary a conventional cubicle in sight. In fact, in-house designers and architects are responsible for almost the entire reinvention of the U-shape cinder-block building.
A developer had intended to break up the property, but Fuller leased the whole thing. He now had 28,000 square feet inside, plus a courtyard ready to be paved for a parking lot. "The City of L.A. said I had two choices, asphalt or concrete. But I wanted grass," he says. Nothing if not persistent, he spent a year negotiating. "The delay cost us a fortune," he admits. But WET got its permeable parking, the only grass lot to date in or around L.A. To capitalize on the hard-won victory, he brought the grass inside as a natural "carpet" in reception, a glass box that juts out of the center of the U. Further blurring boundaries in true SoCal style, the white chairs and table here are outdoor furniture by Richard Schultz. Because climate control was crucial under the blazing sunshine, air-conditioning is ducted under the grass and brought up in slot diffusers. When the fritted glass overhead isn't enough, mesh sunshades provide extra protection.
Above that, the word explore emerges from the vibrantly painted frieze running around the top of the U. A senior designer at WET created not only that artwork but also courtyard doors emblazoned with such words as model and display, accompanied by suitable graphics. For temporary drawings, magnetic dry-erase wall covering clads large surfaces in brainstorming pods and the café at the heart of the vast interior. Project designers and engineers can collaborate over a frothy cappuccino at the café's curved counters or in booths equipped with pull-out rolls of tracing paper. No need to search for that proverbial napkin to sketch on.
Photography by Benny Chan/Fotoworks.
MODERNICA: STOOL BASES.
IKEA: PENDANT FIXTURES.
KOROSEAL: DRY-ERASE WALL COVERING (CAFÉ, BRAINSTORMING PODS).
MISSION HILLS UPHOLSTERY: CUSTOM BANQUETTES (CAFÉ).
LIGHTOLIER: LINEAR FIXTURES (CAFÉ, LAB).
PRIME BUILDING MATERIALS: GRAVEL (EXTERIOR).
A-G SOD FARMS: SOD (EXTERIOR, RECEPTION).
KNOLL: CHAIRS (TEAM ROOM).
BOSCH REXROTH CORP.: TABLE BASE FRAMES.
GRIZZLY INDUSTRIAL: TABLETOP MATERIAL.
FATBOY: BEANBAGS (BRAINSTORMING POD).
BENTLEY PRINCE STREET: CARPET.
RICHARD SCHULTZ DESIGN: CHAIRS, TABLE, OTTOMAN (RECEPTION).
HÅG: CHAIRS (MODEL SHOP).
KASWELL FLOORING SYSTEMS: FLOORING (MODEL, WOOD SHOPS).
SLATWALL SYSTEMS: WALL SYSTEM.
ABC INDUSTRIAL COMMERCIAL; GREEN POLISHING SOLUTIONS: FLOORING.